2013 NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

The dingo: from sinner to saviour.

Dingoes are key elements in the struggle to reduce damage caused by kangaroos, foxes and feral cats, according to University of Tasmania Professor Chris Johnson and his colleagues. 

Far from being vermin, Australia’s dingoes sustain biodiversity and can help land managers control invasive species.

For their innovative approach to conservation, Professor Johnson and his team have won the 2013 Australian Museum NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

Their work shows that dingoes control kangaroo populations and supress foxes and feral cats. As a consequence they’ve found that ecosystems with dingoes have better vegetation condition and more diverse and abundant populations of small native mammals.

“Dingoes arouse passionate feelings. This research will change attitudes and help us appreciate their ecological role,” the Director of the Australian Museum, Frank Howarth said.

“The dingo looks like being rehabilitated as a useful member of the Australian environment and the researchers are already putting their work into practice in the management of Evelyn Downs Station near Coober Pedy, 850km north of Adelaide,” he said.

The team—which also includes Dr Michael Letnic of the University of New South Wales, Dr Euan Ritchie of Deakin University, Dr Arian Wallach of James Cook University and Adam O'Neill at Evelyn Downs Station—found that dingoes now occupy the top predator role once filled by the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine. They have become a lynchpin of the ecosystem, important to the health of other animals and plants.

The two other finalists for the prize were chosen for their research into the causes and effects of climate variability and of extreme bushfires.

The South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative—which includes Dr David Post and Dr Francis Chiew of the CSIRO and Dr Bertram Timbal and Dr Harry Hendon of the Bureau of Meteorology—focused on answering key questions about climate variability and its impacts on water availability across south-eastern Australia. The aim is to improve future water management.

Dr Jason Sharples of the University of New South Wales and Richard McRae of the ACT Emergency Services Agency used remote sensing and computer modelling to understand how weather, topography and fuel generate extreme bushfire conditions. Their work has resulted in tools to improve fire-fighter safety and manage fire risks to people, water quality, wildlife and vegetation.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership and commercialisation, science journalism and communication, and school science. This year the 17 sponsored prizes include awards for agriculture, defence, infectious diseases and innovative use of technology.

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Kea Lambert , Project Officer, Eureka Prizes
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